As Fox World Travel’s E-Marketing Coordinator, I thought I’d share my experience traveling to Walt Disney World Theme Parks. I hadn’t been to Orlando since I was about 8 years old, so this was a whole new experience for me leading the way. We traveled with a 3 year old and 12 year old. Again, this is just a take on my personal experience, and many travelers have different styles, insights and entertainment ideas. I am so thankful for the Disney planning help I received from our travel agents in the months leading up to our trip, as they really put my mind at ease!
We arrived into Orlando and decided we wanted to collect our luggage vs. using the Disney Express Luggage Service. This was where it got tricky and confusing. I recommend researching which terminal the airline you are using flys into before arrive at Orlando International Airport. We flew Southwest Airlines (one of my favorites) and the Southwest Airlines baggage claim is in terminal “A” on the first floor (we arrived on the 3rd floor in terminal A), but the Disney Express Shuttles are in terminal “B” on the first floor, and you can’t get over there without going back up the elevators to level three and over to terminal “B” and back down to level 1. If you are traveling with small children and one adult or adult and older child can get away with collecting your luggage at terminal A, I would suggest that you wait with the younger children up on level 3 in between the terminals while someone else gets your luggage from baggage claim. (Just my recommendation now that I’ve done this J)
We arrived to the Pop Century Resort and check-in was a breeze. This is a value resort and offers free bus transfers to all of the Disney Parks and Downtown Disney. We never had any problems with the transportation and it was super convenient.
RESORT: The Pop Century is one of Disney’s “value resorts”. There over 2,000 rooms in this hotel and the rooms are very basic. We had a small refrigerator, flat screen tv and basic amenities, but no coffee maker or microwave. If you are traveling with a family on a budget and do not mind smaller rooms/accommodations, then this option works. You cannot fit more than 4 people comfortably in a room though, and if you have older children it might get cramped. If I could do it over again, I would choose one of Disney’s Moderator or Deluxe hotels. Overall, the hotel was clean and a nice value a budget-friendly stay. We were in the 80s section by the computer pool. It was convenient for walking to the bus pick-up area, but a little further for food/dining. I paid the little extra for pool view vs. parking lot view. The resort is definitely fun to look at and I would take a walk around the hotel and the lake. The walking trails were so peaceful in the evening while the sun was setting!
FOOD: We bought refillable mugs for $15 each at our resort (valid only at the resort you are staying). This worked out well, but it was quite the walk to the food court, so we would always bring one or two with us in our bag to the parks and used them to fill up water in bubblers, etc. We could then fill up our mugs right away when we returned, as the food court was near the bus pick-up area.
I did not purchase a Disney Dining Plan, so I charged everything onto my Magical Express Resort Card for ease of tracking, etc. You can use this as a charge card at the resorts and parks and then they bill it to your card at the end or your stay. I liked this featured. The food court at our hotel had a nice variety. Food prices are typical about everywhere we went (resort or parks). An adult meal was $9-$12 for the quick-dining options like burgers, fries, chicken, etc. and a kids meal average $5.99. We brought our own cereal and pb&j for breakfasts, brought our own snacks and ate lunches and dinners at the resort or parks (mostly the resort). If you do not have the dining plan and plan on charging meals to your “Disney Express Card” I recommend saying you don’t have the dining plan and that you’d like to charge it, otherwise cashiers might assume you have the plan and recommend other items that are included with your “dining meal” but that you’ll end up paying extra for.
PARKS: We went to Magic Kingdom two days, Hollywood Studios a day, Animal Kingdom a day and scoped out Epcot one night after dinner. Watching children take in all of the sites and activities really is worth every penny. The sheer fascination and joy on their faces is something not to be missed. In general, a lot of the rides are similar concept among the parks, but with different themes. Each park really did have unique qualities and such different feels.
Magic Kingdom: Two days was necessary to really take in the Magic Kingdom. I absolutely would recommend seeing the Electrical Parade, castle light show and fireworks at least one night at Magic Kingdom. We arrived at the parks about 10-15 minutes before they opened each morning and made sure we went on the rides and attractions we wanted to see right away when we got in there. It really helps to do this with the little kids and started the day off right with little or no wait times and some fun activities before it got too busy and people start getting crabby or tired. The thrill seekers in our family headed over to the roller coasters or more thrilling rides right away to get their fast passes as many didn’t open until 10 or 11. Later in the afternoon we would go ride the People Mover in Tomorrowland for a little break, but the kids loved it and it was still a ride with a small wait.
Animal Kingdom: I recommend hitting up the African Safari right away in the morning. If you are there when the park opens you pretty much walk right through and have less than a 20 minute wait, and you get to see most of the animals because they are up eating or just got out into the park from their shelters (they are all taken in at night and you can see where they live if you take the train back to Rafiki’s Planet). The Lion King Show was also excellent here and it was my favorite show at all of the parks.
Hollywood Studios: The stunt shows were fun to see, I enjoyed Disney Junior Live because I’m used to watching these shows and we got to meet quite a few of the Pixar characters that you wouldn’t see at the other parks such as Jake from The Netherland Pirates, Handy Manny, and The Incredibles. This was a good park for us to go to the first day because it wasn’t overly packed, was more relaxing and didn’t overwhelm the kids too much, but still had a ton of fun stuff to do and the stunt shows were nice to watch. We all enjoyed the Toy Story Mania ride, which again is one to hit up right away in the morning.
Epcot: We were only at Epcot one night, but it was nice for us adults to see the World Market and meet some characters when lines were short. It was actually a pretty cool place and relaxing for a night stroll! If we would have gone as just adults, I would have loved to dine in one of the restaurants for a nice evening out.
Having now been to Walt Disney World and Six Flags, I do want to note some key differences. Disney really isn’t for “thrill-seekers” who are looking for roller coasters and adrenaline rushes. Most of the rides are the same among the different parks, but with different themes. There were a few smaller roller coasters and rides that catered to older children and adults, but not as many as I thought. Disney is more about the characters and theatrics. We went to a lot of 3-D shows, stunt shows, performances and the basic rides that take you through “scenes” from movies.
A few of my recommendations:
- Utilize and recommend the My Disney Experience Iphone/Android App! This is a must. It syncs to your online account, has a list of each parks events and schedules for the day, notes when parks open early, has a map with GPS on your phone (points out where you are in the park and where you want to go), wait times and more! LOVED LOVED LOVED it.
- We got there about 10 to 15 minutes before the parks opened and just went and did some of the key rides we knew we wanted to hit up before 30+ minute waits.
- We ate lunch around 11-11:30. I couldn’t believe how much the parks filled up by 11 and we didn’t ever have the patience to try and tackle lunch during the noon hour. It truly is unbelievable how many people are in the vicinity of these parks. It’s during the noon time that everything starts getting packed.
- With a 3-year old, we found that going back to the resort around two for a nap and then going back to the parks was our best option for a nice night. This was especially key on the days we went back to Magic Kingdom for the fireworks and Electric Parade.
- Pack breakfast if you don’t have the dining plan. Saves money and gives you the opportunity to get going and moving to the parks early.
- This Chicco travel stroller was the best investment ever. So simple to carry on and off the buses, lightweight, but sturdy and a life saver.
- Review which terminal your flight comes into at Orlando Airport and remember that The Disney Express Shuttle is on the first floor of terminal B and you can’t get over to terminal B from terminal A by the first or second floor. You will have to go back up to the third floor and back down.
All in all we had a great trip to Disney and it was a nice balance of activities and entertainment for all of our age groups. I do highly highly recommend working with one of Fox World Travel’s travel agents who specialize in Disney Vacations. Fox World Travel is an authorized Disney Vacation planner and there are so many differences between the Disney hotels alone that are worth looking into and considering. Where you stay can make all the difference in time, stress and comfort, and I would recommend looking at a Moderate or Deluxe option if possible. In addition, they offered me some nice “dining tips” as far as the best restaurants at parks and other time-saving ideas.